6 tips for blanket stitching applique shapes you want to know

Welcome back. Another tip filled day as we get one step closer to finishing the pot holders. The pattern I’m using is called Barnyard Buddies by ellie mae designs. They’re super cute and very easy to do. The pot holders are a great project for beginners, but even if you’re a seasoned quilter/sewist, I’m sure you’ll find a tip or two that will make your next applique project that much easier.

Barnyard Buddies pot holder pattern by ellie mae designs

TIP 1 – How to choose an applique stitch

There are so many stitches that you can use to finish the edges of fused applique shapes. I’m covering the two most common stitches – the blanket stitch and the satin stitch. Keep in mind that the tips I’m sharing work for either of the stitches.

Blanket stitch – I like to use the blanket stitch when I want a folksy look to my finished piece. It’s faster than a satin stitch, you don’t need to use a stabilizer with it, and you can use regular piecing thread.

Satin stitch – When I want a cleaner look to my applique, I choose the satin stitch. Also if the piece will be used (and washed) a lot, I prefer the satin stitch as it completely encloses the raw edges so there’s no fraying (if everything has been done correctly). It takes longer to stitch out and a heavier weight thread provides better coverage.

To show the difference, I’ll stitch the chicken pot holder using a buttonhole stitch and the pig and the cow will be finished with a satin stitch.

TIP 2 – Thread choices for blanket stitch applique

I’m using regular Gütermann 50wt thread to piece with using a blanket stitch. I’m using black for all the pieces.

Some people find that black is too stark especially if you have a lot of light colored pieces. A dark chocolate brown works very well if you don’t like the stark contrast that black provides. You always have the option of using matching threads or at least choosing a blue thread for blue fabrics, even if the blues are not an exact match. The possibilities are endless for thread color choices. This is why I love small pieces like the pot holders. It’s easy to experiment with different colors and then you could have a whole lot of pot holders made – perfect for gifts.

In this case, I chose a black 50wt thread for my stitching. I have the same thread in the top and the bobbin. Notice that I’m also using an open toe applique foot. This is critical for successful applique. Without it, you won’t be able to see into all the small corners and indents to ensure you get the stitch exactly where you want it.

Black Gütermann 50-weight thread for the top and bottom for stitching the blanket stitch. An open toe applique foot makes the job much easier

TIP 3 – Select a blanket stitch from the sewing machine menu

Depending on the brand and age of the sewing machine you’re using for applique, you may have several blanket stitches from which to choose. I’m using the Husqvarna Viking Designer Ruby deLuxe for my applique and I have the choice of THREE different blanket stitches.

They all have a different look and it’s important to know what they will look like BEFORE you start to stitch on your applique project. Do a stitch out of each to see what looks best for your project.

Choose the one you like or use a combination of all three stitches on the same project. There’s no right or wrong on this one – just the freedom of personal choice.

As you’re doing the stitch outs, take note of the stitch sequence. This is very important. You’ll need to be aware of the stitch sequence when pivoting or turning a corner. My preference is to go with the simplest one as you must be able to follow the stitch sequence.

Stitch out of three different blanket stitches

TIP 4 – Choose the correct settings on your sewing machine

Again, depending on the brand and age of sewing machine you have, there are features that will make applique so much easier than it used to be. Here are some of my favorite sewing machine features for applique.

  1. Needle Up/Down – the needle will remain in the fabric if you stop. This is a super feature for pivoting and keeping the work from shifting.
  2. Sensor foot – this function raises the presser foot ever so slightly making turning corners and pivoting a breeze. No need to touch the presser foot lever.
  3. Foot pedal – don’t forget that tapping the foot pedal will also advance the Designer Ruby deLuxe by one half a stitch. So if you need to pivot and the needle is on the right and you need the needle to be on the left, a single tap will do that for you. You can totally keep your hands on your work. No need to be lifting the presser foot lever or touching the flywheel.
  4. FIX function – this ties a knot in the thread on the underside of your work. No need to knot off the threads or try to figure out how to do a backstitch for the blanket stitch. Love this feature.
  5. Reset Stitch Sequence – If you have finished one row of blanket stitch and need to restart, it’s best to start at the beginning of the stitch sequence. Touching this button on the sewing machine screen (it’s the squiggly looking one), will reset any stitch to the beginning of the stitch sequence. I LOVE this feature and saves a lot of grief when starting a new line of stitching.
  6. Stitch width and stitch length – We’re all familiar with these, but don’t be afraid to use them. Experiment with them to get exactly what you want in your stitch. Don’t just use the defaults.
  7. MIrrored stitches – you can see on the screen below, the direction of the blanket stitch (the straight line along the right-hand side of the stitch goes along the outside edge of the applique shape, but if for whatever reason, I needed the opposite setting, I can touch Mirrored stitch and the stitch will now be a mirror image of this one.
  8. Picture of the stitch – I can see exactly what the stitch will look like before I stitch it out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a stitch out. It just helps to see changes so you don’t have to stitch every option out.

I’m sure there are more features, but these are some of the most important ones. I’ve noticed over the years, that people are afraid of their sewing machines. They buy a machine but don’t have the curiosity to test everything. Don’t be afraid to sit down and do some experimenting. And let’s not forget to READ the manual. Make some small projects like these pot holders and try something new on each one. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn in a very short time. And you learn much more by doing than just reading!

Screen showing the options available to modify the chosen blanket stitch

TIP 5 – Where to position the applique stitch

It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing a blanket stitch or a satin stitch, 99 percent of the stitch will lay on TOP of the applique shape. The needle should just slide past the outer edge and into the background fabric to totally encase the outer edge. If you’re too far out, the density of the stitch can pull in the fabric and if you too far in, the outer edge will have no stitching on it and it doesn’t look nice.

In the photo, you can see how the needle is just on the outside edge of the shape. The open toe applique foot makes this a whole lot easier to see.

The needle swings to the right and into the background fabric

TIP 6 – Pivot on the fullest side of the curves

Pivot on the outer side (the fullest side) of the curves. In the case of a circle, you would always pivot with the needle in the background fabric as shown in the picture. I have overcompensated the pivot here – the piece must have turned when I went to take a picture. That’s the beauty of that Sensor Foot and using the Needle Up/Down. The work will pivot, but won’t shift!

You’re trying to keep the inward jogs of the blanket stitch perpendicular to the edge of the work.

If you’re stitching an inward curve, you want to pivot with the needle on the applique shape. That might be a bit hard to comprehend, but that would be outermost part of the curve.

PIvoting with the needle in the work

Here’s the chicken with all the blanket stitching complete. I think the blanket stitch complements the style of the chicken and also the fabric choices.

The blanket stitching is complete on the chicken pot holder

Here’s the back of the work. I did NOT use a stabilizer for the blanket stitch. This is not a dense stitch and since most of the stitch is placed on the applique shape, the applique shape and the fusible webbing provide enough stability.

I did NOT bring my bobbin thread up to the top so the stops and starts are a wee bit messy. It will be inside the pot holder so I wasn’t worried, but if you want to keep the project even neater on the back, bring up the bobbin thread at the beginning of each row of stitching.

If I’m doing a circle of stitching, like on the eye, that I don’t use the FIX function to stop and start. I’ll just stitch over a few of the stitches when I get back to the beginning. If the jogs aren’t matching up, simply raise the presser foot and advance your work until the jog matches up with the next existing jog. No one will be the wiser.

The reverse side of the chicken after all the blanket stitching has been completed

Satin Stitching

ALL of the tips mentioned above are the same for the satin stitch. There are a few more which I’ll outline here.

First, you need to use a stabilizer. I’m using Sulky Stiffy tear away stabilizer. If you don’t, the density of the satin stitch will pull in your work and it won’t be pretty.

Tearaway stabilizer used to support the denser satin stitch

This time, I’m using a heavier weight (40wt) GÜTERMANN Dekor thread in the top of the machine and GÜTERMANN Dekor Bobbin thread 60wt in the bobbin. I don’t want to use the same heavier weight in the top and bobbin for two reasons.

  1. The 40wt is more expensive and why use that when no one will see the back of the work.
  2. If I use a heavy weight on the top and bobbin, the stitch will be thicker and can cause issues. Use a lighter weight thread in the bobbin.

A spool of 40-weight thread for the top and a 60 weight thread for the bobbin. The open toe applique foot is essential to stitching applique

Do stitch outs. This is so critical. If you’re not familiar with your sewing machine and its capabilities for satin stitch, do the stitch outs and write the width and length (the length will change how close the stitches are to each other) of the stitches beside the appropriate sample on your stitch out so you know what to use when you need it.

I don’t always use the same stitch width for an entire piece. I could use 3 or 4 more widths depending on the size of the shape I’m stitching around. I like to scale the width of the satin stitch to the size of the applique shape.

Stitch outs of a couple of different satin stitch widths

As with the blanket stitch, the needle should swing into the background completely encasing the raw edge of your applique shape. This is critical to ensuring a nice finish along the edge.

The needle just skims past the edge of the applique when it zigs to the right of the applique shape

I cover a lot more details on applique by machine in my post, 10 tips for satin stitch applique. Check it out and before you know it, you’ll be stitching like a pro!

All the stitching is completed on the three pot holders

The stitching on all three pot holers is now complete. All that’s left is to put the layers together, add a wee bit of quilting and add the binding. We’ll finish them up tomorrow so be sure to come back for that.

Have a great day!


This is part 4 of 5 in this series.

Go back to part 3:  4 TIPS for cutting and fusing applique shapes

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Tara Tarbet November 10, 2018 - 3:18 pm
Wonderful tips! Thanks so much! I was really interested in the blanket stitch and your post was helpful!
Mary Clements November 5, 2018 - 2:20 pm
These are great tips on the satin stitch, thank you!
Allison August 8, 2018 - 5:03 pm
Great tips on blanket stitching! Thanks
Michele T August 7, 2018 - 8:08 am
Great tips!! I mostly hand appliqué but this would be a much quicker way and it looks awesome too!!
NancyB from Many LA August 1, 2018 - 3:45 pm
Thanks for the applique tips - I love the look of it!
Carrie July 19, 2018 - 9:14 am
I have recently done a laser cut wall hanging of a stag. It has many many little pieces. A friend suggested just a straight stitch as there are so many curves with an invisible thread. Is that something you would do?
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